The Six Million Dollar Man 1.12 – The Coward

Looks like I picked this episode for one point of continuity and one entertaining guest star. This installment is the first appearance of Martha Scott as Helen Elgin, Steve’s mother. She’ll return in several future episodes, and is seen here without her husband Jim, who raised Steve after the death of his father when Steve was an infant.

Carl Austin was killed in action in World War Two, and there’s a report that he bailed out when the plane he was flying over China was attacked by Japanese fighters. The plane is spotted again in the present day by a weather satellite, and so Steve goes to the Himalayas to retrieve the confidential documents the plane was carrying, and, hopefully, to find his father’s body there and prove he didn’t dishonorably leave his crew to to die.

The notable guest star is George Takei, who plays an experienced Chinese mountain climber who gives Steve a little training and is supposed to make the Himalayan climb with him. It doesn’t work out so well for George; they get attacked by Nepalese (?) bandits as soon as they parachute down and Takei’s character is killed. Fortunately, Steve gets some assistance from a mysterious older American who’s been living in these hills for many years…

The story is by Elroy Schwartz, Sherwood’s brother, who wrote for lots of sitcoms in the sixties and seventies. Looks like he wrote or co-wrote five episodes of this show. The tease throughout, of course, is that the older American is Steve’s father, which seems to be confirmed when they make it to the plane’s wreckage and find a body wearing another man’s dogtags and bury him. But three decades in the wild can make a fellow grow up. After a fight with the bandits that leaves this man mortally wounded, he confirms that the body in the plane was actually that of Steve’s father, Carl Austin. Steve’s dying friend is Christopher Bell, who was the real coward and bailed out. He’d climbed the mountain almost immediately and switched his tags with Carl’s, assuming the plane would be exhumed a whole lot earlier than now and he could live in peace among the nomads, farmers, and bandits instead of going home to a court martial.

I think that a lot of The Six Million Dollar Man is like this. There are few science fiction or super-spy elements to the story and the bionics are barely used. Still, I picked a pretty good one for the character drama. It was a little slower than I think our son was ready to try, but he says that he enjoyed it, and all the mountain climbing scenes certainly kept his interest. He says that he’d like to climb a mountain himself one day, but the boy can barely make it across a simple suspension rope bridge without wincing, so that day may be far off.

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